Disaster READY Vanuatu building preparedness in the midst of disasters
Disaster READY Vanuatu partners have been busy with preparedness and emergency response activities in the past 12-18 months as they continued to support the evacuation of Ambae island residents due to ongoing volcanic activity.
Through linking and integrating preparedness activities within emergency responses, Disaster READY Vanuatu supports communities and other local actors to adapt and deal with the challenges faced during a disaster, while also strengthening their ability to prepare better for future disasters. The experience of the Ambae volcano response, as well as a tsunami alert and a tropical cyclone in the past year, showcased how disaster preparedness requires active management and adaption – before, during and after a disaster. Such adaptive management and responsiveness will strengthen resilience at individual, household and community levels.
Preparedness in Action - Ambae Volcano Response
In August 2018, the Government of Vanuatu declared a state of emergency and the compulsory evacuation of approximately 11,000 people from the Ambae. This followed increased volcanic activity from the Manaro volcano.
With people from Ambae faced with mandatory evacuation and in need of support and shelter in both Santo and Maewo, Disaster READY partners were among the first responders. Their ability to respond quickly was enhanced by existing relationships and tools and knowledge gained through Disaster READY activities.
Cash Transfer Feasibility Assessment translates into a Cash Grant Program
In the six months prior to Ambae’s evacuation, Oxfam Vanuatu conducted a Cash Transfer Feasibility Assessment to assess whether pre-paid cash cards could work in Vanuatu communities during disaster recovery. Knowledge gained from the study informed operational procedures and fundraising efforts, ultimately leading to Vanuatu’s first multi-purpose cash grant programme in support of the Ambae disaster response.
Cash grants were provided to more than 13,000 evacuees and host families on Santo. The first and only locally staffed and experienced cash transfer research and response team in the region was established.
“Due to the Australian Humanitarian Partnership investment in preparedness, Vanuatu has the first ever nation-wide cash transfer program feasibility study and mapping in the Pacific Region. It is the first time for multi-purpose cash grants to be provided as humanitarian assistance in Vanuatu, and it is the first assistance of this sort for volcano-displaced people in the Pacific region.”
Sandra Hart, Pacific Cash and Livelihoods Lead with Oxfam in Vanuatu.
The Cash Transfer Feasibility Study was completed with involvement from Save the Children, Youth Challenge Vanuatu, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Department of Local Authorities and United Nations World Food Programme. You can read the report here.
Responding through local mechanisms
The population of Maewo island doubled as a result of the Ambae evacuation, placing pressure on both evacuees and the host communities. CARE Vanuatu delivered refresher training to active Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees (CDCCCs) to ensure the immediate needs of the evacuees (food, water, less-temporary shelter) could be met. New CDCCs were also established where needed on Maewo to support Maewo residents to strengthen disaster preparedness.
Committees comprising representatives from both the host and displaced communities worked together to draw hazard and risk maps and develop and test cyclone preparedness plans.
Other Disaster READY activities included training CDCCC shelter focal points on Shelter Cluster key messages, including: the importance of building strong second homes; distributing materials to strengthen shelters; repair and rehabilitation of evacuation centres; and working with chiefs and CDCCCs to develop cyclone evacuation plans, including a cyclone simulation exercises,
“My biggest worry is mainly for the families from Ambae living in temporary shelters since we’re now in the cyclone season, but I have confidence that with the cyclone simulation exercise that CARE facilitated, I’ll be able to help mobilise them to safe houses.”
Rodrick Abraham, Maewo CDCCC member.
Santo CDCCCs support Ambae evacuees while preparing for cyclone season
Many Ambae residents were also evacuated to south-east Santo and, with cyclone season approaching, there was a need to ensure evacuees and host communities were safe. Save the Children supported the development of new CDCCCs with engagement from both evacuees and host communities. Committee member roles were re-established and they identified disaster risks and began self-governed fundraising for CDCCC emergency funds and a storage house for disaster risk reduction preparedness kits and materials.
“Before when Save the Children went into the community, people did not really value disaster activities as their priorities. Community members had a lot of commitments and low knowledge and understanding of disasters. After the second training on roles and responsibilities, we can see that CDCCC members are becoming active and leading with their own disaster preparedness activities.”
Kelvin Willie, Disaster Risk Reduction Officer, Save the Children.
When Tropical Cylone Oma hit Sanma Province in February 2019, several Santo CDCCCs were attending training with Save the Children. They quickly used their knowledge to prepare homes and carry out evacuations - in some case to their own designated safe houses - and completed post-disaster needs assessments, despite having only had part of their CDCCC training completed. The CDCCCs showed understanding of warnings received via text, radio and the weather, and were able to act based on this early warning information. There were also more examples of women actively participating in key preparedness activities, such as community risk mapping, as a result of the inclusive Save the Children Community training approach.
Supporting community leaders to drive disaster responses
Act for Peace and the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) supported communities in Santo, Efate, Malekula and Pentecost ahead of cyclone season with evacuation centre management training and community mapping – ensuring that women, children and people with disabilities were heard and included. They also worked with partners to develop training resources designed to support community leaders to assist their communities with the emotional impacts of disasters.
Act for Peace and the VCC also responded to the devastating volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on Ambrym in late 2018 - showcasing the complex challenges of disaster risk reduction in Vanuatu.
Sanitation supplies and support
World Vision Vanuatu supported host and resettled communities in Bombua and Banan in Santo with materials and training on toilet construction within the communities and also within schools. Tips on makeshift water taps (tippy taps) were also provided as a means of hygiene promotion. To support resettled communities during cyclone season, World Vision also distributed Hippo Rollers for safe water storage and easy water collection.
Tsunami preparedness put into practice
ActionAid delivered training to 35 women leaders from the Women I TokTok Tugetha (WITTT) forum in November 2018, with a focus on women-led community-based protection and disaster preparedness. The women came from communities in Tanna, Erromango and Eton and were joined by women from six countries who form part of the Shifting the Power Coalition Network. The women explored women-led community-based protection responses could look like and discussed the importance of building on traditional Indigenous knowledge and networks.
Not long after the training, an earthquake hit off the coast of New Caledonia triggering a tsunami alert in Vanuatu. As information began coming through, the women in Tanna put their knowledge into action to prepare their communities for a safe evacuation, including supporting the safety and security of women.
Reflections on a year of preparedness and response
Disaster READY Vanuatu partners understand that preparedness work will never be neatly separated and completed before disasters occur. In a country as disaster-prone as Vanuatu, the two must often by undertaken simultaneously. To the right are some of the lessons shared from 12 months of responding to disasters while working to better prepare for those yet to come.